cover image A Travel Guide to the Middle Ages: The World Through Medieval Eyes

A Travel Guide to the Middle Ages: The World Through Medieval Eyes

Anthony Bale. Norton, $29 (320p) ISBN 978-1-324-06457-2

Historian Bale (Margery Kempe) draws on medieval European travel guides and travelogues for an informative and entertaining survey of “the practicalities, the pleasantries and the perils” of travel in the Middle Ages. Travelers who journeyed by foot, ship, and horseback encountered a landscape of monuments and ruins before reaching bustling European cities like London and Rome, or more distant destinations such as Constantinople and Jerusalem. Though the travel guides were not always completely accurate, they included sound advice (always carry a staff and bag, preferably blessed by a priest before departure; travel in groups for safety; bring sufficient coin for tolls, fees, and other expenses; use good manners in taverns; and prepare a last will and testament before leaving) as well as fanciful tales (airborne cats; trees that grow gems for the taking; and repeated warnings about cannibalism). Beyond human curiosity and wanderlust, the medieval traveler was motivated by religious pilgrimages, economic opportunities, and political intrigue, all of which receive attention in Bale’s vibrant profiles of various historical travelers, including Rabban Bar Sauma, a Mongol Christian and emissary whose Eastern perspective of Western life presents a welcome departure from the Eurocentric view. Medieval history buffs will relish this. (Feb.)